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Christian W. Troll SJ

Common Prayer of Christians and Muslims?

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 6/2008, P. 363-376
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    Since the prayer meeting of Assisi in 1986 the question arises whether members of different religions can pray together. CHRISTIAN W. TROLL, Honorary Professor of Islam and Christian-Muslim encounter at the Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology St. Georgen in Frankfurt takes the commitment of Christians and Muslims not only to dialogue but also to prayer for granted.

 

If since the Second Vatican Council an event in the history of the church deserves the adjective "epochal", then it was the interreligious meeting in Assisi on 27 October 1986, to which Pope John Paul II invited the representatives of the main Christian denominations as well as of the world religions in order to pray for peace. In Assisi it was not about a jointly speaking of prayers, rather all participants were at the same time assembled at one place - the grave of St. Francis - so that every religion or denomination prayed in its own mode for the same intention: for peace. At the beginning of the meeting the Pope said:

"There are many and different religions; through the centuries they reflect the desire of men and women to establish a relation with the Absolute. Prayer includes on the side of man the conversion of the heart. It means to deepen our awareness of the last reality. Just that is the deepest meaning of our coming together in this place." {1}

 

Assisi and the Consequences

The prayer meeting in Assisi became not least through the creative engagement of the Community of Sant' Egidio the model of a world prayer movement for peace, which beyond the borders of individual nations includes the faithful of all religions and embraces the whole earth. Indeed, since Assisi among the followers of all religions the awareness of their common relation to God and the awareness of a shared responsibility for peace has grown - especially among believers of the three monotheistic world religions. But at the same time also everywhere the voices and forces against such common religious awareness and action embracing the various religions have increased.

The German bishops in 2003 published "Guidelines for multi-religious celebrations of Christians, Jews and Muslims" {2}. Following the example and model of the prayer meeting in Assisi, which, as the bishops write, "avoided the danger of mingling (syncretism) and respected the others' sincere search for God" they encourage multi-religious celebrations of Christians and Jews, Christians and Muslims, and of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

 


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They distinguish the "multi-religious celebration" where "each religious group is responsible for its contributions" {3} from what they call the "interreligious ceremony", "in which all together address God by words and signs which are carried out by all" {4}. The latter they categorically reject, "for here there is the danger to monopolize the other and to cover up existing differences" {5}.

With regard to multi-religious celebrations of Christians and Muslims the German bishops say:

"In joint celebrations Christians and Muslims can experience that their lives are - despite varying ideas of God - oriented towards the one God ... So Christians and Muslims can discover that they as recipients of God's peace are called and obliged to mutual respect, and beyond that to the commitment to peace and the respect for human rights in the world." {6}

In 2006 Cardinal Joachim Meisner published for the Archdiocese of Cologne a "Guideline of the Archbishop on Multi-religious Celebrations in Schools". Such celebrations, he writes, "make no sense in schools, since by the for children and adolescents difficult discernibleness of multi-religious celebrations and Catholic and ecumenical services, the risk of confusion is imminent. That is why in the Archdiocese of Cologne no further celebrations are to take place for pupils in schools." {7}

The Cardinal's decision can be regarded as the result of his certainly well-considered religio-educational and pastoral assessment. The Hamburg suffragan bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, spokesman of the German Bishops' Conference for interreligious dialogue, said a few days later in the Deutschlandfunk (German radio station), with his rejection of this form of celebrations in school Cardinal Meisner followed in principle the guidelines of the German Bishops' Conference of 2003. The prohibition of such celebrations in schools was issued out of concern for the children and out of respect for the differing conceptions of God of other religions. But in his opinion multi-religious celebrations in schools should nevertheless be possible in particular cases {8}.

It is true though the Cologne guideline mentioned puts still another statement before the sentence quoted:

"The image of God of the non-Christian religions is not identical with the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Common services are therefore not possible. That is why every community can only pray to its God alone. When this is done together, the respective other group must stand there in silence" (ibid.).

In the first sentence of that statement the image of God of the non-Christian religions is compared "with the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". With it the levels are mixed up. To be correct one should compare one image of God with another one.

 


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When we now take our starting point from the diversity of the images of God also among the three "religions of the family of Abraham", does then conclusively follow from the diversity of the respective image of God of those religions that prayers spoken together by Christians and Muslims and interreligious celebrations in this sense are according to the Christian viewpoint to be regarded as "impossible"?

I think this is hardly the case. The image of God of the Islamic faith is certainly not identical with the image of God of the Christian faith - even if you simplifying leave aside that - as regards the image of God in Islam as well as in Christianity - one certainly finds in each case a broad range of variations in the image of God. And yet, the two images of God share such essential elements that under certain circumstances Christians and Muslims can and should jointly pray to God.

Against the background of those events three questions are to be considered in the following: Firstly, do Muslims and Christians believe in the same God? Secondly: Can the prayer of Christians and the prayer of the Muslims be regarded, as it were, as "space" of their inner relation and proximity? Thirdly: Can Christians and Muslims meet each other in prayer?

 

Do Muslims and Christians believe in the same God?

The question whether Muslims and Christians can and may in this or that way pray together to God leads directly to the question whether they adore the same God. Before we deal with this fundamental issue we should first take seriously the hardly questionable fact: Islam and Christianity belong - together with Judaism - to the monotheistic religions, i.e. to the religions which confess God's uniqueness and unity. In other words: Judaism, Christianity and Islam have with regard to their respective profession of God as the one and only one a common root that distinguishes them from the religions with mythical, non-personal and polytheistic ideas of God. The escape from the myth characterized monotheism as a separate way in the history of religion. It first was taken by Israel and from Israel as root also by Christianity and Islam.

It is true though with it the significant difference between the Christian and the Muslim faith in God's unity is in no way to be ralativized and to be underestimated in its importance. The Christian faith confesses God's unity as the unity of the One who is in Himself relationship of love, namely three-personal relationship of love. From that the Muslim confession of God's unity distances itself explicitly, deliberately and vehemently.

 


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If we want to live and promote sincere and constructive relations between Christians and Muslims, then we should on the one hand recognize the weight and importance of that difference between us with all its consequences, but on the other hand we should also keep an eye on the importance of the actually possible encounter between Christians and Muslims, an encounter in the act of living faith, in the effective orientation of the entire life towards the living God.

Islam is not simply a Christian heresy, as some theologians have presented it. Certainly, the Koran - and with it Islam - knows the person of Jesus and admits that he is a prophet. Furthermore, the Islamic faith is imbued with many elements of the biblical tradition. Nevertheless, deep differences in faith make Islam a religion that is different from Christianity. There is, on the one hand, the Islamic denial of Jesus' physical death on the Cross as well as of the redeeming function and power of that death on the Cross, and on the other hand the rejection of the mystery of God as the Triune.

Clearly to recognizes these differences and others given with them will help both sides to live the mutual relationship in its truth; the recognition of the differences mentioned - with all their implications for the whole of the respective faith and faith perspective - is, as the Dutch-Egyptian Islam expert Christian van Nispen tot Sevenaer SJ rightly stresses, an expression of mutual respect {9}.

Admittedly, the recognition of the serious differences between the Christian and the Muslim faith mentioned above does not mean that we were allowed quite simply to say 'no' to the depth and the importance of the encounter that Christians and Muslims in their faith in God can and should live.

 

Recognition of the Differences - and Common Features

The belief of Muslims - their testimony to the unity and uniqueness of God and their prayer, yes, the whole of their cult (to which also the social tax, fasting and the pilgrimage to Mecca belong) - addresses the living God who is infinitely superior to all creatures but at the same time infinitely close to them; it addresses the creator of heaven and earth, whose being infinitely transcends all what we can imagine or name, and who as such is "closer to us than our carotid "(Surah 50 (Qaf), 16), as the Koran itself puts it.

This God of the Islamic faith has produced in the community of Muslim believers, the "umma", many true worshippers and servants of God, women and men, who all - following Muhammad's call - have oriented towards Abraham, the father of devout obedience. Abraham prays in Surah 26 (al-Shu'ara/The Poets) 83: "My Lord: Grant me wisdom, and join me with the good." And in Surah 3 (The Family of Imran), 190-195, is said:

 


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190: Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand. 191: Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee; save us then from the chastisement of the fire: 192: Our Lord! surely whomsoever Thou makest enter the fire, him Thou hast indeed brought to disgrace, and there shall be no helpers for the unjust: 193: Our Lord! surely we have heard a preacher calling to the faith, saying: Believe in your Lord, so we did believe; Our Lord! forgive us therefore our faults, and cover our evil deeds and make us die with the righteous. 194: Our Lord! and grant us what Thou hast promised us by Thy apostles; and disgrace us not on the day of resurrection; surely Thou dost not fail to perform the promise. 195: So their Lord accepted their prayer: That I will not waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female.

Christians can and must recognize that the God in whom Muslims believe is not a creature, not an idol nor a mere lofty idea or mere representation, but rather the God in whom also the Christians believe. That is true - in spite of those differences mentioned in the statements about God with all their far-reaching consequences with regard to what on both sides is confessed as the crucial centre of the respective faith, and what is consequently to be accepted and to be obeyed as God's central commandment which surpasses and determines everything.

In the church constitution "Lumen Gentium" the Second Vatican Council stated:

"But (God's) plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind." (LG 16).

This communion in the faith in the creator, upholder and judge and in the worship of the one God according to the standard of Abraham's faith allows Muslims and Christians an encounter in this faith, and this really enables us to stand "jointly before God". But then it demands and includes also that we in this encounter give God the absolute priority and so recognize that it is God himself who unites us and grants us this encounter. Just that will help us, Christians and Muslims, to live our profound differences in true respect for each other, in loyalty to the voice of our conscience.

In so far as our faith is a really personal act and not simply a social heritage which is thoughtlessly adopted, and in so far as Christians and Muslims try to live their relationship with God out of their deepest conscience, we can be together also there where we are different. We are allowed to say that because and in so far as we believe in one and the same God, and recognize in that faith the mystery that each man's way with God is. Christians and Muslims are - understood in that way - brothers and sisters in God.

 


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In this sense Pope John Paul II said to the representatives of the Muslims in Davao in the Philippines on 20 February 1981:

"I deliberately address you as brothers ... We are in a special way brothers in God, who created us and whom we're trying to reach according to our own paths, through faith, prayer and worship, by loyalty to his commandments and by submission to his plans." {10}

In other words, real and profound differences in faith need not mean an absolute separation in our joint standing before God. But when the speech about God becomes, so to speak, a place of tournament or a battlefield, one indeed quickly gets into danger that one does no longer speak about the living God, who is for all of us first an inexpressible mystery.

But what does mystery actually mean? Mystery in the language of theology does not mean "riddle"; it rather denotes a room, a surplus in sense, which rather embraces and seizes us than that we grasp it or even can embrace it. The mystery invites us: not to eliminate the intellect but to exceed what the mind can achieve with its own forces. Mystery is given by grace, through selfless love. The mystery of divine love is indeed the real mystery into which to enter is given to us as present. It invites us to form a relationship with God himself transcending all human ideas of community and relationship.

Every material unity, each unity which is not the unity of love can be broken and split. The true unity is the unity lived between persons, the unity of love. The more authentically people are united by true love, the more unbreakable their unity becomes. The experience of such a unity in the love of people can allow us to accept the mystery of the divine unity, the mystery of the greatest love imaginable.

Jesus Christ reveals and communicates us the mystery of this love "up to the end", better "up to completion" (Jn 13, 1). He conceives himself as the total love of the Father; in the same way he gives himself unreservedly to God his Father, in total devotion to his disciples, indeed, to all people. So he proves to be the Son of God from eternity. The mystery of God's triune life invites to participate in the divine life - a life of relationship and infinite love - in which unity itself is the absolute unity of absolute love.

 

Abraham as Model

Certainly, the Koran and in its train the entire tradition of Islamic religious thought underlines time and again that it was man not given to enter into God's intimate life, he should not try to fathom the "heart" of the divine nature.

 


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But here too the difference between the Islamic and the Christian faith does not mean a total contrast; for we must not forget that and how the spiritual life of many Muslim believers lived and lives on the meditation of the "Most Beautiful Names of God" (asma Allah al-husnà). The Muslims are instructed to imitate and to live "God's qualities" mentioned in the Most Beautiful Names, in anticipation of the appearance of the just and merciful Lord of the Judgment.

But the area where the Muslims come closest to God's mystery is undoubtedly where they try to follow God's unfathomable will according to Abraham's model. The Abraham of the Koran was ready to sacrifice his son at God's behest, without being able in any way humanly to understand the divine decision. Through his submission and devotion (this is the meaning of the Arab verbal noun "islam"), which is borne by his faithful confidence, Abraham became the very model of the Muslim ("muslim": someone who submits to God).

In this absolute and complete submission a remarkable sense of God's mystery can be given to Muslims, namely in the way that according to Muslim faith God's plan can radically exceed what the devout Muslim himself is able to understand. This determination of the Muslim faithful to submit to the mystery of God's will reveals the true greatness of their faith, especially in view of the mystery of death.

Who then simply interprets resp. misinterprets this attitude as a kind of fatalism fails to recognize the true meaning of it. Christian van Nispen mentions in this context the example of the important Egyptian writer Tawfiq al-Hakým (1898-1987). In one of his novels al-Hakým describes how he experienced the trauma of the early death of his little son. During the funeral he ran behind the corpse of his son and repeated: "Your wisdom, Lord, your wisdom, Lord (hikmatuka, ya Rabb)!" {11}

The Christian faith discovers in Jesus Christ the unity of communion and love as the last sense of God's unity and uniqueness. To the faith of the Christians the last sense is revealed in Jesus Christ, (who is) as it were the focus of all qualities of God. For in him we discover that God is first and foremost non-violent love which gives away itself, and that thus the divine love is the key to the understanding of the last sense of all qualities or names of God. We Christians find in Jesus also the true meaning of the divine greatness: it proves to be the greatness of His Love giving away itself and exceeding every human imagination. God's true greatness is revealed in the most radical way, when he makes himself in Jesus the Messiah, the non-violent servant of all and of each human being.

For Muslims it is very important to be resolute advocates resp. defenders of the divine greatness (for one of the key expressions of Islamic faith is "Allahu akbar", God is always greater, is through and through great, infinitely great).

 


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With it it must soberly be noted that in the past repeatedly and particularly also today Muslim groups existed and exist worldwide which are effectively striving for political objectives by violent means; they regard themselves not primarily as politicians, warriors or terrorists but as consistent Muslims. These Muslims regard themselves as and behave as if they were the only true, consistent Muslims. Groups of Muslims who are so disposed develop sometimes a downright sectarian mentality. What is more, in that milieu a radical fanaticism exists that can go up to planning and carrying out suicide attacks in the name of Islam, and possibly accepts the killing of innocent civilians.

Christians who enter into dialogue with Muslims and who especially want that the just mentioned religious and spiritual bonds between Islam and Christianity become alive and fruitful should - for the sake of the good cause - quite carefully take into consideration what kind of understanding of Islam moulds the thinking and action of the respective partner - as an individual or as a group, and how such a person or group sees the relationship with the non-Muslim partners - and thus also with the Christians - in the different constellations of today's social and political life, and how it plans to implement it in practice in the social and political reality of our country.

This circumspection, which requires a differentiated knowledge, is also essential because in Islam hardly any forms of a "teaching authority" exist that would even approximately correspond to the respective Protestant or Orthodox forms or even to the Catholic Church's teaching authority. On the contrary, Muslims decidedly reject the idea of a teaching authority and are in general proud of being able as an individual or a group to work out and to represent their own understanding of the Koran's message.

 

Islamic Fundamentalism

So, today we are witnesses to partly absolutely influential groups of Muslims who in the name of the Koran represent a decidedly Islamist view of Islam, and who try to carry it through by political, and here and there also military and terrorist means. Such groups regard not only non-Muslims, including Christians as infidels (kuffar), who are at least gradually to be deprived of power within the framework of the respective opportunity, but also Muslims who are not attached to their radical Islamist ideas or even contradict them. Those groups recognize and support genuine democratic structures only as far as they are useful to carry through the political Islamist power structures at which they aim without exception.

 


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With Muslims and Muslim groups that are trapped in such a view of Islam a spiritual-religious dialogue seems useless to me, because the essential pre-conditions for its success are missing. In my opinion a truly religious and spiritual dialogue seems to make sense only with Muslims and Christians who share our secular democratic values, and who thus logically ultimately also acknowledge the separation of State and religion, and do not work towards an Islamic state. An allegedly religious and spiritual dialogue with Muslims who are identified as Islamists does not serve the truth. It is a deception and confusion of the true servants of God, whether they are of Christian or Islamic faith.

In accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ, updated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the church calls upon its members to live in agreement with Christ and to let become visible and tangible the revelation of God's true greatness in Jesus by giving away themselves to their neighbour through the faithful and creative pursuit of the services they have been entrusted with, especially where he is marginalized and forgotten. Then this greatness of God, instead being an object of argument and dispute, of pride and unkindness between Christians and Muslims, will become the place of a fruitful spiritual competition.

From all that results: Christians and Muslims are - first by God himself, but also by the silent expectation of so many people - invited to be "witnesses of the One/Unique", in the difference in their religious views, in the sometimes painful respect for that difference, and in the encounter. Understood in that way encounter can create a genuine solidarity, a certain unity - deep and mysterious also in the difference between the Christian and Muslim perspective. That will to unity in difference honours God, who is adored by both Christians and Muslims, and it honours man, who is created "according to God's image" - as the Bible teaches (Gen 1, 26-29), and who is appointed as "God's deputy on earth" (khalýfa) - as the Koran (Surah 2, 30) and the Bible (Psalm 8, 6-9) teach.

 

Prayer as "Space" of Inner Relationship and Proximity?

When Christians and Muslims are in principle brothers and sisters before the One God, and when the Muslims in the words of Lumen Gentium adore the One God "along with us, the merciful, who on the last day will judge mankind" (LG 16), then the spiritual efforts of the Muslim faithful cannot leave untouched faithful Christians. Pope John Paul II said on 22 December 1986, looking back on the prayer meeting in Assisi mentioned above:

"Every genuine prayer is under the influence of the Spirit who 'helps our infirmity' (Rom 8, 26). We may indeed believe that every genuine prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who in a mysterious way is present in the heart of every human being.

 


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Also that we saw in Assisi: The unity which has its origin in the fact that every man and every woman is able to pray, that means entirely to submit to God and to recognize him/herself as poor before Him. Prayer is one of the means to realize God's plan among the people (see AG 3)." {12}

In all religions prayer is the place par excellence where the faithful live and express their relationship with God. While the concrete behaviour of the faithful in word and deed is the most radical realization of their faith, the prayer is the spirit of just that faith. Prayer is often characterized by the same paradox as all our statements about God. When God actually is at the same time "the Absolute", "the Whole", "the totally different one" and "the absolute mystery" which exceeds every understanding and speaking, then prayer is as relation to that God at the same time on the one hand fullness and richness and on the other hand emptiness and powerlessness.

Without dealing here with the other religions I believe that the said things apply to Islam as well as to Christianity, though I am perfectly aware of the dangers and of the reality of the many and diverse forms of depravation in the current faith and prayer of an actually given religion. Anyway, we can adequately speak about prayer only with respect and a certain restraint, for we are touching there the very simple and also the inexpressible, the most awe-inspiring and precious in the life of devout people.

The multiplicity of religions means also a discrepancy with regard to postures and contents of prayer. So it goes without saying that Christian and Muslim prayers are not equal or interchangeable. That discrepancy should be respected. It is certainly also true that with the possibility of an encounter in the faith in the One and living God the possibility of an encounter in praying is given. And furthermore it probably also applies: The obligation of Muslims and Christians to recognize each other before the One Creator and Judge, to exchange views with each other, in short, to meet each other in a dialogue will always cause the desire and perhaps even awaken the awareness of the obligation - especially in a world that widely forgets God - praisingly to confess together this common mission before God and jointly to ask time and again for God's help, so that we better recognize and implement the common responsibility.

 

Commitment to Dialogue - Commitment to Prayer

It is no easy task to keep the two ends of that paradox somehow together, i.e. on the one hand the diversity of the perspectives of faith and the attitudes/postures of prayer and on the other hand the obligation to the encounter in prayer.

 


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But from the tension and the paradox simply to construct a contradiction is illegal and extremely harmful. This applies all the more since today the tendency prevails to present Islam and Christianity as fundamentally opposed to each other, yes, even as persistently and substantially being in conflict with each other.

In Christianity, with its diversity of denominations, there is an infinite number of prayer types and forms. There is the liturgical prayer, the culmination of which is the Eucharist resp. the Lord's Supper. There are prayers for the celebration of the various sacraments, but also the official common prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. Finally, there are all the forms of pious and free prayer performed by individuals or in groups. Christians know that they in all their prayers are by God's Spirit included into the movement of the risen Jesus to the Father, in which he gets everything from the Father and hands everything over to him. Thus prayer becomes life and vice versa.

In Islam - Sunni with its four schools or rites and Shiite in its various forms - the ritual prayer (salat) is after the creed the first duty of religious observance. It is the second pillar of Islam. This prayer has to be performed five times a day, at fixed times and according to a defined ritual. So it impresses its rhythm on everyday life. On Friday midday this prayer has an even more binding and a decidedly communion character. It immediately follows the Friday sermon. Of special importance are also the morning prayers at the two major festivals, the Feast of Fast-breaking at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the Feast of Sacrifice in the month of pilgrimage, as well as the prayers at special occasions, as for instance at funerals.

In addition to the official and ritual-legal prayers there is in Islam the "prayer of invocation" (du'a), a free prayer that mainly consists of insistent requests and inquiries but can also contain praise, thanks and requests for forgiveness. It is free, but this does not mean that well-known texts cannot be found in it. Such prayer is available for all occasions and with all kinds of intentions. It is true though there is no complete separation between the prayer of invocation and the official ritual prayer, for there are moments within the ritual prayer where prayers of invocation can be inserted in silence.

The nature of the prayer of invocation allows to grant it in the interreligious encounter a regular, recognised place. Before God, the Living and the One we can pray for one another, Christians for Muslims and Muslims for Christians. Time and again Muslims have said to me: "Father, pray for me, pray for my children!" And when I for my part then ask Muslims for their prayers, they are pleasantly surprised.

 


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Can Christians and Muslims Meet Each Other in Prayer?

In the light of those facts now the further question arises whether we, Christians and Muslims, can meet each other in prayer. What in view of such an encounter in prayer seems to me to be of primary importance, is exactly what hardly becomes evident but is very close to everyday life: The awareness and the inner recognition of the fact that we stand "jointly before God", is already an - admittedly at first still invisible but nevertheless effective - first step towards a peaceful living together, it means an inner coming together and at the same time an opening to God. In addition, everybody can in his own prayer, so to speak, carry the others "before God", just also during the regular ritual or liturgical prayer. During or after such prayer then the opportunity arises explicitly to pray for each other before God.

An encounter in prayer can also take place by silent participation in the liturgical prayer of the others, though without joining in the loud speaking or symbolic gestures. Here it is about the discrete participation in the liturgical prayer of Muslims or Christians as a guest, in an attitude of respect and of praying presence.

Now and then in personal encounters, especially in outstanding events in life, important decisions, causes for great joy or pain and suffering, it is among Christians and Muslims, who already know and estimate each other as spouses, relatives, neighbours, colleagues and comrades in the fight against imbalances and injustices in the social life, certainly meaningful and appropriate to know that one stands together before God, and jointly to put the feelings of gratitude, joy or anxiety and requests into words, into words to the common Lord of our hearts and our fate.

Finally, with certain encounters in groups the opportunity arises to open together an inner space of prayer. How such jointly spoken prayer of Christians and Muslims as groups can take place will considerably depend on the participants' character and quality and will certainly always remain exceptional. For the practice of common prayer is always marked by the element of simplification and reduction on both sides, and by the very serious risk to reduce the prayer to the lowest common denominator of the two faiths. Here it is necessary decidedly to avoid that in the end the common prayer of Christians and Muslims replaces every other practice of prayer of the respective religions, as it can quickly happen especially in schools and in religiously mixed youth groups.

 


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Above all it should be kept in mind: In order that the prayer remains genuine, it is necessary that the believer remains permanently connected with the prayer practice of his faith community, with the "sacred space" accustomed and familiar to him. Especially children and young people must first grow into this space and take deep roots in it.

Authorities dealing with the dialogue have said useful things about the matter; collections of prayers from Christianity, Islam and other religions have been published. The authenticity of the encounter is particularly important. It is not the spectacular that matters; it is crucial that the things which are symbolically done and expressed in words represent the reality and quality of the participants' encounter.

A particularly beautiful prayer is the prayer of the "Religious Brotherhood" in Cairo, which for decades has been meeting monthly. At the beginning all the participants, Muslims, Jews and Christians say together the following words:

    God, to you we turn,
    In you we place our trust,
    It's you for whose help we ask.
    Urgently we ask:
    Give us the power of faith in you
    And the right action by the right guidance of your prophets and messengers.
    And we ask you, O God, to make every one of us
    Loyal to his faith and his religion,
    Without narrow-mindedness which harms us ourselves,
    Without fanaticism that does injustice to our fellow citizens.
    We beseech you, our Lord,
    bless our religious brotherhood.
    Give that sincerity determines us here,
    Justice be the goal pursued here.
    Peace be the good we find here.
    O Thou Living, Thou Eternal
    To Thee be praise and honour.
    Amen.

 

Together Before God

There is not only one answer and also no unambiguous answer to the question of common prayer with Muslims. For that the possible times and places, the forms and concrete situations of prayer are truly too diverse. Moreover the question of joint prayer raises numerous fundamental questions of theology and of the Christian-Islamic dialogue as such. With this issue we are moving on a delicate terrain.

 


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But this fact will and must by no means keep Christians away from longing for the encounter with Muslims before God and in prayer, to know oneself together with Muslims responsible for each other before God, and - wherever meaningful opportunities occur - to come together for common worship of God, for the praise of the One whom both religious communities confess as their creator, upholder and judge, by whom they know themselves called to joint responsibility.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI named in his groundbreaking encyclical letter "Ecclesiam Suam" four virtues which should generally characterize the dialogue. You can apply these virtues also to the common prayer of Muslims and Christians. Paul VI writes: "There is need for clarity and gentleness, confidence and wisdom." {13} Led by those virtues the common prayer of Christians and Muslims in its various forms and on various occasions can create something lasting. It will promote the quality of the Christians' and Muslims' living together as neighbours and of many others who are or are no longer moulded by religion in increasingly pluralistic societies of our One World, and so in a dignified manner praise God, the Father of all.

 

NOTES

{1} Interreligious Dialogue. The official teaching of the Catholic Church, edited by F. Gioia (Boston 1997) No. 537.

{2} Arbeitshilfe 170, edited by the office of the German Bishops' Conference (Bonn 2003).

{3} Ibid. 20.

{4} Ibid.

{5} Ibid.

{6} Ibid. 23.

{7} www.koeln.de/artikel/INC/Koelns-Kardinal-Meisner

{8} See KNA, 11.12.2006 und Frankfurter Rundschau, 9.12.2006.

{9} Ch. van Nispen tot Sevenaer, Chrétiens et musulmans frères devant Dieu? (Paris 2004) 106–109.

{10} Gioia (Note 1) No. 363.

{11} Van Nispen tot Sevenaer (Note 9) 144.

{12} Gioia (Note 1) No. 572.

{13} Ibid. No. 106.

 

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